Originally posted: August 16th, 2011
First-Year Outline Obsession
First year of law school offers some significant challenges. Many students find this year to be one of the most difficult years of their academic lives. One common—if not near-universal—response is that of outline obsession: first-year (1L) students tend to get lured into a never-ending attempt to create the perfect outline. This obsession gets fueled by several different players in the first-year scene, including:
- —well-meaning law professors who remember obsessing over their own outlines and reason that, since they did it, it must be the thing to do
- —commercial publishers of law outlines (e.g., Gilbert’s, Emmanuel’s) who have a profit motive for fueling the frenzy
- —second-year (2L) and third-year (3L) law students who, like their professors, subscribe to the it’s-right-because-I-did-it theory
- —other first-year students who are daunted by the amount of material they need to know and grasp onto the notion of outline omnipotence as a way to manage the stress and anxiety of first year of law school
Benefits and Drawbacks
Not surprisingly, there are both benefits and drawbacks relating to obsessing over one’s outline. More to come on both the good and the bad of first-year outlines. . . .
Original posting date: August 18th, 2011
While there is a great deal of downside to the “outline obsession” that tends to overtake first-year (1L) law school students, outlining one’s first-year topics—property, constitutional law, civil procedure, and the lot—can be beneficial. Potential benefits from first-year law outlines include:
- — enhanced memorization / recall of the law: the outline can be used to help students memorize rule statements; this possibility is, of course, the main theoretical justification for making an outline at all
- — increased understanding of the law: the outline—specifically, the process of making an outline—can facilitate a person’s delving deeper into the subject matter; this possibility represents the best opportunity of all to make outlining worthwhile
- — it’s something to do: the outline can become a sort of “lightning rod” that attracts the attention of a student who would otherwise have difficulty concentrating / studying
- — anxiety reduction: some students find that, by working on their outlines, they feel more “in control” of there first-year of law school and therefore less anxious about it
Effective Engagement—Not the Outline Itself—Is the Real Reason to Outline
Notice that all of the above possible benefits to law outlining pertain to the effect of the outline on the student, not the value of the finished product itself. After all, as previously discussed, law students are not in the law publishing business, so a student’s outline will probably never be used again once the final exam ends.
But achieving these desirable effects does not necessarily follow from merely doing an outline. These effects flow from effectively engaging in the process of outlining.
This effective engagement is, in short, the key to making one’s outline efforts worthwhile. Effectively engaging in the outlining process—and the learning process generally—will be the topic of upcoming articles.